Tag Archives | ski history

Memorial Day, Ski Style.

10th Mountain Division, WWII, Camp Hale, CO

10th Mountain Division,
WWII, Camp Hale, CO

Most people celebrate Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. Swimming, boating, picnics, you get the picture. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But let’s not lose sight of the holiday’s original intent: to commemorate those who lost their lives fighting for our country. Those like the men of the Tenth Mountain Division, who served in combat for only four months during World War II, yet who suffered the highest casualty rate of any US division in the Mediterranean.

Started as an experiment to train soldiers to fight in the most difficult, mountainous terrain in Europe, the Tenth trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, 17 miles north of Leadville. The camp, which lay at 9,300 feet, had four trails and the longest T-Bar in the country. Troops were taught to ski, snowshoe, and climb with packs and rifles as well as survive in the most brutal winter conditions. They lived in the mountains for weeks at a time, working in altitudes up to 13,500 feet, in five to six feet of snow and in temperatures that dropped to 20 degrees below zero at night.

All this well before the advent of today’s technical fabrics.

After training for two years, the Tenth participated in a series of actions that played a vital role in the liberation of northern Italy. The Division breached the supposedly impregnable Gothic Line in the Apennines and secured the Po River Valley. By the time the Germans surrendered in May 1945, 992 ski troopers had lost their lives and 4,000 were wounded.

After the war, veterans of the Tenth became the backbone of the postwar American ski boom. Monty Atwater, for example, went to Alta, Utah, where he established the first explosive avalanche control system. Friedl Pfeifer designed Aspen Mountain, started Aspen’s ski school, and ran the first racing circuit. And Pete Seibert became a member of the 1948 Olympic team and founded Vail.

The sacrifices and contributions of the men of the Tenth can not be denied. So this Memorial Day week, while you’re swimming and picnicing and welcoming in the summer season, take a minute to salute the Tenth, along with the many other veterans of our Armed Forces. Remember, they fought for you.

* This post originaly appeared in May, 2010. But some things are worth re-running. :)



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Farewell to Wendy

Wendy Cram

Wendy Cram (photo ©Hubert Schreibl)

No, not me. Another Wendy. A Wendy who’s a ski legend and bona fide piece of US ski history.

Wendall Cram, otherwise known as Wendy, passed away this past weekend at the age of 97 at his home in Manchester, Vermont.

Maybe I feel a connection with Wendy because his name is the same as mine. And because he lived in Vermont. And because he loved to both ski and bike (so many similarities!). But truly, he was one of a kind.

Wendy was present at the creation of lift-served skiing in the United States. He was one of the first skiers to get hauled up Gilbert’s Hill in Woodstock, VT, where the first rope tow was installed in 1934. He went on to become a member of the 1940 US Olympic Team, although the Olympics were cancelled due to World War II (his Olympic sweater hangs in the Vermont Ski & Snowboard Museum). Instead, he joined the 10th Mountain Division in Camp Hale, Colorado, and ended up as an instructor in this elite force. Because of a serious back injury, however, he was never deployed to fight in Europe. (For more about the 10th, see my blog post here.)

After the war, Wendy became an instructor at the glamorous Sun Valley Resort, where he taught his share of movie stars and struck up a friendship with Warren Miller, who was then living in an unheated trailer next door. He still raced, winning the Diamond Sun downhill at Sun Valley, a course with no control gates or padding on the lift towers or trees. He then moved back east and opened a ski shop in Manchester, VT, which he ran with his wife, Annie, until the late 70’s. And for more than fifty years, he worked as an instructor at Stratton.

I met Wendy a few years ago when he was tooling around Manchester on his specially built tricycle. He loved biking, and told me he’d take 60 or 70 mile rides during the week, 30 milers on the weekend. Here I am with Wendy and his bike:

Two Wendy's:  Me and Wendy Cram

Two Wendy’s: Me and Wendy Cram

Manchester even named a bike path after him:

Sign for Wendy's Way Bike Path, Manchester, VT

Sign for Wendy’s Way Bike Path, Manchester, VT

If there’s a ski paradise, you can be sure that Wendy is there right now, happily laying down tracks in some heavenly powder.  RIP, Wendy.



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A Peek at the Women in Snowsports Exhibit at the US Ski Hall of Fame

Plan to be passing through Ishpeming, Michigan, soon?

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

In case you didn’t know, that’s the location of the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Yeah, I agree; the Upper Peninsula of Michigan seems an unlikely spot to me, too. You’d imagine the Hall of Fame would be someplace like Aspen or Vail. Or even Stowe, Vermont. But once you learn the reason, you can understand why it’s there: Over a century ago, a group of local businessmen and ski enthusiasts founded the National Skiing Association, thus earning the city the distinction of being the birthplace of organized skiing in the US.

The Hall of Fame Museum has been around since 1956, showcasing not only the members of the US Ski Hall of Fame, but memorabilia of particular interest to skiers.

Now it’s home to something else, too: the first-ever exhibit featuring Women in Snowsports.

I wrote about the dearth of women Hall of Famer’s a few months ago (you can read the entire post here). In a nutshell, there aren’t nearly enough. Out of 410 inductees, there are only 60 women. Yes, you read that right. Sixty. That’s 15%.

There are a lot of reasons why, which you can read about in the post. But instead of getting sidetracked, let’s focus on the positive: The exhibit.

One of the primary movers behind it is Jeannie Thoren — yes, she of the famed Thoren Theory, which introduced a revolutionary concept to skiing: Women are not small men, and may actually have different requirements for ski gear. So she’s pretty inspiring. And yes, she’s a  2014 Hall of Fame inductee.

I recently asked Jeannie about the Women in Snowsports exhibit at the museum.

SD: How did this exhibit come about? What was the impetus behind it? 
JT: Women have always been virtually invisible in skiing.  The exhibit is a way to recognize and put a spotlight on women who have achieved at the highest level. Hopefully, it’ll be inspirational to all visitors, but especially to young girls and their mothers.  I want them to start dreaming big.

I was inducted into the Ski Hall of Fame last September. The organization was in the midst of hiring Justin Koski, an Ishpeming native, to take over the position of Executive Director. During the course of the weekend, I told him of my longtime idea to get all the women members gathered in one section of the museum. There are a smaller number of women members, and I wanted to unite them so they’d be a real presence. He was enthusiastic in his support.

My grandparents were born outside of Ishpeming. The first place I ever skied was in Ishpeming. I have been going to the museum, starting with the older location, since I was kid. Later, in the present building, I never miss a chance to stop in and look around. I’m sure my idea was well received because I am a “local” and have known management for as long as I can remember.

Being inducted into the Ski Hall of Fame was my lifetime goal. I started out in Ishpeming, and after traveling all over the world for skiing, I was finally back home. Assembling this Women in Snowsports exhibit is my way of giving back to the skiing community where it all began for me.

SD: So what does the exhibit include?
JT: To get the ball rolling, the items were decided between the outgoing Executive Director, Tom West, the new Executive Director, Justin Koski, and myself. There is also a Display Committee and a Board of Directors, who have final say on what goes in and what isn’t appropriate. I guess in a way I’m the curator from a distance, but all the credit goes to Ann Schroeder, the Ski Hall’s Secretary. She has the task of making sure everything is labeled and documented.

The cornerstone of the exhibit is a mock-up of Jeannie Thoren’s Women Ski Center. This was the first exclusively women’s ski equipment shop anywhere in the world. It lives on today as Outdoor Divas in Lionshead, Vail.

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On top is the copper sign I had over my Women’s Ski Center in Lionshead at Vail. The black shadow box contains a signed pair of the Dynastar Exclusive Carves. They were named SKI Magazine’s Ski of the Year in 2007, when I was Dynastar’s Women’s Category Manager. Below that is the framed SKI Magazine article outlining the features which made this truly a winning women’s specific ski. And below that is a fun explanation of the Thoren Theory, outlining some of my on-snow experiences doing clinics from Lake Placid to Mt. Bachelor. All this is flanked by my two latest, state-of-the-art skis which are currently on the market [ed. note: these are custom made by SkiLogik]. The Edelweiss, the stiffer of the two, is on the left, and the friendlier Snowflake is on the right.

Next to it is a ski rack with a pair of my Blizzard Women’s Test L skis, and the end result, the first women’s specific ski, Blizzard’s Fame, with documentation on the project.

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Yes, that’s Jeannie Thoren.

It’s a shared space with existing exhibits that have been there for years and can’t be moved.  There’s a gondola, three lift chairs, a T-bar, and so on.  There’s also a large platform with mannequins dressed for skiing in styles representing the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s.  And there’s also a  large life-sized photo booth of a skier jumping off a cliff; this is Genia Fuller, a 2015 Hall of Fame inductee.  You just put your head in the hole provided to be the skier.

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SD: Is this now a permanent part of the museum? How often will it be updated?
JT: Yes, it’s permanent and will be updated on an ongoing basis. It will never be done. Right now it’s a diamond in the rough, but we’re making progress. My ongoing job is to contact women in the Hall of Fame to see if they have memorabilia they can send us. I have a couple of women I’m working with at present.

 



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No Limits: 11 Women Who Shattered the Snow Ceiling.

I’m writing this on August 26, Women’s Equality Day. Sure, I know, I’m posting it four days later. But y’know, Women’s Equality shouldn’t be limited to just one day. It’s something we need to think about all the time. Why? Because it’s 2016, not 1916, and a lot of the issues that hold women back should’ve have been resolved a long time ago.

Nonetheless, Women’s Equality Day got me thinking about all the women in the ski world who’ve broken gender barriers and smashed through the snow ceiling. Certainly, there are a lot of amazing women I could include — too many to name, in fact — but I thought I’d point out a  few who have done their part to show that women shouldn’t be limited just because they have female rather than male anatomy.

Andrea Mead Lawrence

Andrea Mead Lawrence

 

 

Andrea Mead Lawrence: Let’s start with a good one. Andrea Mead Lawrence was the first American alpine skier to win two Olympic gold medals. Not first female alpine skier — the first alpine skier. She showed all of us that sure, it could be done. And yeah, it could be done by a woman.

 

 

 

Jeanne Thoren

Jeanne Thoren

Jeanne Thoren: Granted, some of the modifications she proposed for skis and boots are still being debated today. But whether you agree with her or not, you have to give Jeanne Thoren her props. Jeanne was the first person in the ski industry to realize that women were not just miniature men and maybe, just maybe, we needed gear engineered to suit us. A radical concept, in its time (which incidentally, wasn’t all that long ago). In 1986, Jeanne designed what is believed to be the first women’s ski, for the Austrian company Blizzard. She also created awareness of and demand for women-centric ski gear, raising the bar for the entire industry and improving the sport for all women. The Exclusive Carve Ski she designed for Dynastar became Ski magazine’s 2007 Ski of the Year. In 2009, she opened the Jeannie Thoren’s Women’s Ski Center in Vail, Colorado.

 

Suzy Chaffee

Suzy Chaffee

Suzy Chaffee: I had the privilege of interviewing Suzy a couple years ago, and it was pretty mind-blowing to speak to someone I idolized when I first started skiing. Sure, she’s a three-time world freestyle skiing champion, and yeah, she was the first female member of the US Olympic team board of directors. But I think her most far-ranging achievement is her work as a champion of Title IX legislation. Suzy was instrumental in convincing federal lawmakers to enact the statute that guarantees equal opportunities for men and women in federally funded sports and education programs. You can find my interview, along with her long list of achievements, here.

Lindsey Vonn

Lindsey Vonn

 

Lindsey Vonn: I hardly need to write anything here. Lindsey isn’t just arguably the best women’s skier of all time, she’s also considered one of the best skiers of all time.  I won’t go into all her accomplishments (you can find them in Wikipedia), but I’ve included her in this list for one important reason: her extremely high profile serves as an inspiration for girls and women everywhere.  She’s also the founder of the Lindsey Vonn Foundation, which empowers young women through scholarships, programs and unique opportunities.

 

 

Lynsey Dyer

Lynsey Dyer

Lynsey Dyer: A phenomenal world-class skier who was named Powder Magazine’s Skier of the Year, Lynsey is also the founder of  SheJumps.org, an organization dedicated to encouraging  women to  participate in outdoor activities. But that’s not all: Fed up with the fact that only 14% of the athletes in major ski films are female when women make up around 40% of the skiing population, Lynsey took it upon herself to produce Pretty Faces, an all-female ski movie, raising the bulk of the money she needed via a Kickstarter campaign. I interviewed her about all this here.

 

 

Lindsey Van

Lindsey Van

Lindsey Van: Yes, another Lindsey/Lynsey (what the heck is with that name, anyway?). But this one is different: she flies. Lindsey is an amazing ski jumper; in 2009, she became the first World Champion in women’s ski jumping after winning the first World Championships to allow women to compete. She also holds the North American women’s record with a jump of 171 meters. Before the Olympic Games in 2010, she held the hill record for both men and women in Vancouver. More importantly, her continued efforts not only helped put women’s ski jumping on the map, but helped put it into the 2014 Olympics. For more information on this, here’s a piece I did about it in 2013.

Sarah Burke

Sarah Burke

 

Sarah Burke: Taken from us way too soon, Sarah was a force to be reckoned with on the Freestyle Skiing circuit. In fact, it’s thanks to her tireless efforts that women’s ski half-pipe was finally included in the X Games, three years after men were competing in this same event. Sarah went on to become a four-time X Game champion. She also coached girls on glaciers in the summer, paving the way for future female competitors in more than one way.

 

 

 

Pam Murphy

Pam Murphy

 

Pam Murphy: There still aren’t a lot of women in the upper echelons of ski area management, but the first to break the snow ceiling was Pam Murphy. Starting in the ticket office at Mammoth Mountain in 1973, Pam rose through the ranks to vice president of marketing and sales and in 1998, became Mammoth’s general manager — the first female GM for a major ski resort in the country. Pam retired from the post in 2014.

 

 

Kim Beekman

Kim Beekman

 

Kim Beekman: One of the major publications of the ski industry, Skiing Magazine never had a female editor-in-chief in its 68-year history until Kim Beekman took the helm. Named to the post in 2015, Kim is an award-winning journalist, an accomplished lifelong skier, and director of SKI’s rigorous Women’s Ski Test. As editor-in-chief, she’s focused on welcoming a wider range of skiers into the fold, no matter what their ability, through compelling story telling and informative articles.

 

 

 

 

Angel Collinson

Angel Collinson

Angel Collinson: Angel is kind of the ‘it’ girl of skiing right now. But not without cause. Angel was the first woman to win the Best Line at the Powder Awards, creating what the Ski Journal called “the burliest—and most entertaining—female film segment of all time.” Her footage ended up earning her the coveted closing segment in Paradise Waits, marking the first time a woman has been selected for a TGR finale. The previous year, she broke barriers with the first female opening segment of a TGR film, in 2014’s Almost Ablaze. In fact, until Collinson showed up on the scene three years ago, the studio hadn’t featured a woman in a film in years.

 

 

Jen Gurnecki

Jen Gurnecki

Jen Gurecki: What do we do when we’re unhappy with the women’s skis out there? Here’s what Jen did: she stepped up and created Coalition Snow, the first ever woman-owned ski company — not an easy task in an industry that’s dominated by men. The company’s tag line says it all: We’re the ones we’ve been waiting for. Yep, don’t tell her she can’t; she’ll turn it into a can. I interviewed her here.

 

 

 

There’s no doubt there are a lot of inspiring women in the ski world (some of the others I’ve interviewed include Muffy Davis, Donna Weinbrecht, and Elyse Saugstad). In fact, the Ski Hall of Fame will soon be opening a special exhibit on women hall-of-famers, a well-deserved tribute to a talented, powerful group. Helmets off to them all!

 



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Memorial Day, Ski Style.

10th Mountain Division, WWII, Camp Hale, CO

10th Mountain Division,
WWII, Camp Hale, CO

Most people celebrate Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. Swimming, boating, picnics, you get the picture. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But let’s not lose sight of the holiday’s original intent: to commemorate those who lost their lives fighting for our country. Those like the men of the Tenth Mountain Division, who served in combat for only four months during World War II, yet who suffered the highest casualty rate of any US division in the Mediterranean.

Started as an experiment to train soldiers to fight in the most difficult, mountainous terrain in Europe, the Tenth trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, 17 miles north of Leadville. The camp, which lay at 9,300 feet, had four trails and the longest T-Bar in the country. Troops were taught to ski, snowshoe, and climb with packs and rifles as well as survive in the most brutal winter conditions. They lived in the mountains for weeks at a time, working in altitudes up to 13,500 feet, in five to six feet of snow and in temperatures that dropped to 20 degrees below zero at night.

All this well before the advent of today’s technical fabrics.

After training for two years, the Tenth participated in a series of actions that played a vital role in the liberation of northern Italy. The Division breached the supposedly impregnable Gothic Line in the Apennines and secured the Po River Valley. By the time the Germans surrendered in May 1945, 992 ski troopers had lost their lives and 4,000 were wounded.

After the war, veterans of the Tenth became the backbone of the postwar American ski boom. Monty Atwater, for example, went to Alta, Utah, where he established the first explosive avalanche control system. Friedl Pfeifer designed Aspen Mountain, started Aspen’s ski school, and ran the first racing circuit. And Pete Seibert became a member of the 1948 Olympic team and founded Vail.

The sacrifices and contributions of the men of the Tenth can not be denied. So this Memorial Day week, while you’re swimming and picnicing and welcoming in the summer season, take a minute to salute the Tenth, along with the many other veterans of our Armed Forces. Remember, they fought for you.

* This post originaly appeared in May, 2010. But some things are worth re-running. :)



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Why aren’t there more women in the US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame?

Little over a week ago, the Class of 2015 was inducted into the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. As always, it’s an impressive group with an amazing list of achievements  (for the full list, go here). A big Ski Diva congratulations to all.

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, Class of 2015 Left to right: Lessing Stern, son of honoree Edgar Stern*, Genia Fuller Crews, Henry Kaiser, Chris Klug, Bob Salerno, Jim Martinson, David Ingemie *Edgar Stern passed away October 12, 2008 Photo courtesy of the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame, Class of 2015
Left to right: Lessing Stern, son of honoree Edgar Stern*, Genia Fuller Crews, Henry Kaiser,
Chris Klug, Bob Salerno, Jim Martinson, David Ingemie
*Edgar Stern passed away October 12, 2008
Photo courtesy of the US Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame

I was especially excited about the inclusion of Genia Fuller, a true pioneer in freestyle skiing and a three-time World Freestyle Skiing Champion. But then I realized something: out of the seven new inductees, she was the only woman to receive this honor. So it made me wonder: how many members of the Hall of Fame are female?

The results may surprise you: out of four hundred and ten inductees, there are only sixty women. Yes, you read that right. Sixty. That’s 15%.

I was surprised, too. I mean, what’s going on here? Why so few?

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame

First, some background.

Established in 1956, the Hall of Fame is dedicated to preserving and promoting America’s ski heritage through the permanent recognition of nationally outstanding skiers, snowboarders, and ski sport builders. It’s headquartered in the City of Ishpeming on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where the National Skiing Association was first organized over a century ago, and features a museum with displays on the Hall of Fame honorees, trophies, clothing, and equipment. There’s a gift shop, too, as well as a library and theater. Admission is free, and visitors are welcome 10AM to 5PM, Monday thru Saturday year-round.

So how are Hall of Fame members selected?

First, they need to be nominated. And this can be done by anyone. That’s right — you, me, your mom, your sister, anyone. All you have to do is visit the Hall of Fame website and download the nomination form. Nominees are taken in one of three categories: Athletes, which is pretty self explanatory; Snowsport Builders, who are people who have made significant contributions to skiing or snowboarding and who aren’t athletes; and Heritage, which can be athletes or snowsport builders who have been retired from their qualifying activity for 25 years or have participated in it for at least 25 years. You can find the eligibility requirements here.

Once the nominees are in, they’re vetted by a selection committee, which reviews the candidates and determines the final slate via secret ballot. This is then submitted to a national voting panel made up of members of the selection committee, honored members, members of the USSA Awards Working Group, and directors of the US Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame and the US Ski and Snowboard Association. The chairman and the board of directors may also appoint a reasonable number of individuals to the national voting panel, including those having distinguished careers in snowsports and holding expert knowledge in snowsports history. Honorees are announced in October, and the induction ceremony held the following April.

Which brings me back to my original question: why so few women?

Is it part of some sinister plot? Is it evidence of blatant sexism? Well, there may be a few things at play here. Consider the following:

First, history. The snowsports industry has long been dominated by men. This is changing (albeit slowly), but years ago, things were very, very different. The individuals involved in building the resorts or developing products or technologies were almost exclusively male. That means there’s a larger pool of men to draw from, which tips the scales in favor of male inductees, particularly in the Heritage and Sport Building categories. The result is more men in the Hall.

Second, the nomination process. As I said earlier, anyone can submit a nomination. So to get more women honorees, more women have to be put up for a vote. And that’s where all of us come in. Nominations for next year are being taken right now through the end of April, so if you like, you can have a hand in selecting the Class of 2016. Please, get involved, and we can change this. It’s up to us.

BTW, the Hall of Fame Museum is working on a Women in Skiing Exhibit, which will focus on the female honorees and their achievements. Spearheaded by honoree Jeannie Thoren, the exhibit is slated to open in September, 2016. Here she is at the entry to the exhibit with her husband, Thomas Haas.

Photo courtesy of Jeannie Thoren.

Photo courtesy of Jeannie Thoren.

Want some inspiration? I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing several female Hall of Fame honorees for this blog: Muffy Davis, Donna WeinbrechtSuzy Chaffee, and Deb Armstrong. Interesting reading, so be sure to check them out!

 

 

 

 



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Memorial Day, Ski Style

10th Mountain Division, WWII, Camp Hale, CO

10th Mountain Division,
WWII, Camp Hale, CO

Most people celebrate Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. Swimming, boating, picnics, you get the picture. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But let’s not lose sight of the holiday’s original intent: to commemorate those who lost their lives fighting for our country. Those like the men of the Tenth Mountain Division, who served in combat for only four months during World War II, yet who suffered the highest casualty rate of any US division in the Mediterranean.

Started as an experiment to train soldiers to fight in the most difficult, mountainous terrain in Europe, the Tenth trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, 17 miles north of Leadville. The camp, which lay at 9,300 feet, had four trails and the longest T-Bar in the country. Troops were taught to ski, snowshoe, and climb with packs and rifles as well as survive in the most brutal winter conditions. They lived in the mountains for weeks at a time, working in altitudes up to 13,500 feet, in five to six feet of snow and in temperatures that dropped to 20 degrees below zero at night.

All this well before the advent of today’s technical fabrics.

After training for two years, the Tenth participated in a series of actions that played a vital role in the liberation of northern Italy. The Division breached the supposedly impregnable Gothic Line in the Apennines and secured the Po River Valley. By the time the Germans surrendered in May 1945, 992 ski troopers had lost their lives and 4,000 were wounded.

After the war, veterans of the Tenth became the backbone of the postwar American ski boom. Monty Atwater, for example, went to Alta, Utah, where he established the first explosive avalanche control system. Friedl Pfeifer designed Aspen Mountain, started Aspen’s ski school, and ran the first racing circuit. And Pete Seibert became a member of the 1948 Olympic team and founded Vail.

The sacrifices and contributions of the men of the Tenth can not be denied. So this Memorial Day week, while you’re swimming and picnicing and welcoming in the summer season, take a minute to salute the Tenth, along with the many other veterans of our Armed Forces. Remember, they fought for you.

* This post originaly appeared in May, 2010. But some things are worth re-running. :)



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Getting to the top.

I live not too far from Suicide Six, a small mountain in Vermont that prides itself on being the first lift-served ski area in the US. The mountain installed a rope tow in 1934, a couple years before the country’s first chair lift went into service at Sun Valley, Idaho, in 1936.

Ski lifts have come a long way since then. Today you can ride a tram, gondola, high-speed quad, double, triple, rope tow, J-bar, T-bar, and Magic Carpet, to name a few. And oh, the places you’ll go. The Peak-To-Peak Tram at Whistler-Blackcomb, for example, spans 4.4 km in just 11 minutes. The Aerial Tram at Jackson Hole takes you 4,139 vertical feet in 15 minutes. And the Lone Peak Tram at Big Sky brings you up to 11,166 feet, climbing 1,450 ft over a distance of 2,828 ft. Lifts open up terrain that would otherwise be inaccessible to the majority of skiers, and substantially expand a resort’s skiable acreage. Skiing wouldn’t be the same without them.

Single Chair, Mad River Glen

Single Chair, Mad River Glen

People get incredibly attached to lifts. Here in Vermont, it’s not unusual to see a house with an old lift chair or gondola cabin in the yard. And then there’s the historic single chair at Mad River Glen, which has a mystique all its own. When the mountain refurbished its lift in 2007, the old chairs were auctioned off to raise funds, with a minimum starting bid of $1,000. They sold.

Every now and then you hear a crazy ski lift story in the news. In 2010, five chairs fell 25-30 feet from a lift at Sugarloaf, Maine, injuring six people. In 2009, a nearly 40-year-old lift at Devil’s Head, Wisconsin, ran backwards at an out-of-control rate of speed, overriding the safety brakes and injuring 14 people. Luckily, these are exceptions rather than the rule. Statistics compiled by the National Ski Areas Association show only 12 chairlift fatalities in North America between 1973, when data collection started, and 2011 (the date of the source I found), making chairlifts safer than cars, escalators, or elevators.

Ski resorts do a lot of lift maintenance, refurbishment, and installation during the summer. This year my local mountain, Okemo, is installing a six-person bubble chair, complete with heated seats, to replace a high-speed detachable quad. It’s the first one like it in North America, and it’s been interesting to read people’s reactions on the internet. Some see it as an absolute travesty, more evidence of the corporatization and sanitation of the ski experience — which I think  is pretty silly. Unless you’re hiking, you have to rely on some sort of automatic conveyance to get to the top, and I see little difference between the new lift and riding a tram or a gondola. All offer wind protection and a larger group of passengers than a typical chair — except with the bubble lift, you don’t have to remove your skis, which to me is a big plus. Yes, the heated seats may be a bit over the top. But ask me about this again on a day when the temps dip below zero, and I may give you a completely different answer. After all, no one gets a medal for being uncomfortable.

Bubble Lift to be installed at Okemo Mountain Resort

Artist rendition of Bubble Lift.

A lift being demolished or installed doesn’t happen every day, and I’m hoping to see some of this at Okemo this summer. It’s a massive undertaking that relies on incredible logistics and lots and lots of money; the lift at Okemo is clocking in at $6.9 million and is slated to start rolling in mid-December. I’ve been told they’ll be using helicopters to install the footings for the new towers in a few weeks, and I may go over to watch. If I do, I’ll take some pics so you can see, too.

In the meantime, enjoy this video of a chairlift installation at Vail in 2011:

 

 

 

 

 



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Memorial Day, Ski Style

10th Mountain Division, WWII, Camp Hale, CO

10th Mountain Division,
WWII, Camp Hale, CO

Most people celebrate Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer. Swimming, boating, picnics, you get the picture. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But let’s not lose sight of the holiday’s original intent: to commemorate those who lost their lives fighting for our country. Those like the men of the Tenth Mountain Division, who served in combat for only four months during World War II, yet who suffered the highest casualty rate of any US division in the Mediterranean.

Started as an experiment to train soldiers to fight in the most difficult, mountainous terrain in Europe, the Tenth trained at Camp Hale, Colorado, 17 miles north of Leadville. The camp, which lay at 9,300 feet, had four trails and the longest T-Bar in the country. Troops were taught to ski, snowshoe, and climb with packs and rifles as well as survive in the most brutal winter conditions. They lived in the mountains for weeks at a time, working in altitudes up to 13,500 feet, in five to six feet of snow and in temperatures that dropped to 20 degrees below zero at night.

All this well before the advent of today’s technical fabrics.

After training for two years, the Tenth participated in a series of actions that played a vital role in the liberation of northern Italy. The Division breached the supposedly impregnable Gothic Line in the Apennines and secured the Po River Valley. By the time the Germans surrendered in May 1945, 992 ski troopers had lost their lives and 4,000 were wounded.

After the war, veterans of the Tenth became the backbone of the postwar American ski boom. Monty Atwater, for example, went to Alta, Utah, where he established the first explosive avalanche control system. Friedl Pfeifer designed Aspen Mountain, started Aspen’s ski school, and ran the first racing circuit. And Pete Seibert became a member of the 1948 Olympic team and founded Vail.

The sacrifices and contributions of the men of the Tenth can not be denied. So this Memorial Day week, while you’re swimming and picnicing and welcoming in the summer season, take a minute to salute the Tenth, along with the many other veterans of our Armed Forces. Remember, they fought for you.

* This post originaly appeared in May, 2010. But some things are worth re-running. :)



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Hiking a lost ski area.

Sad, but true.

Wherever there are active ski areas, you can bet there are abandoned ski areas, too. According to the New England Lost Ski Area Project, Vermont, alone, has 116; New Hampshire, 174; Maine, 75; Massachusetts, 173; and Connecticut, 60. And there are hundreds more all over the country.

There’s no denying that the ski industry is tough.  A warm winter can be devastating. Add to that the business challenges of the marketplace along with high operating expenses, and it’s not hard to see how a ski area can fail.

My husband and I recently hiked Snow Valley, a lost ski area in southern Vermont. With 15 trails and a vertical drop of 900 feet, Snow Valley began operations in 1947. The area closed in 1984, unable to hold its own against larger areas like Stratton, Bromley, and Magic.  In 2004, there was a glimmer of hope — someone bought it and was going to turn it into a private ski area. But that never happened. Today Snow Valley is being reclaimed by Mother Nature. The trails are covered with waist- and chest-high brush and trees,  and the base lodge is a charred wreck, the result of a fire in 2011. Nonetheless, there’s a haunted quality about the place. Even on a warm, sun-filled day in June, with the sky a sapphire blue and the mountains a riot of green, you can practically feel the ghosts of skiers from winters past. It’s a shame the place had to close.

I found an old Snow Valley trail map on the web. Here it is, to give you an idea of what the place was like: 

And here’s all that’s left  of the base lodge:


Sad, isn’t it?

We hiked up the trail marked #1 on the map. It doesn’t look too overgrown in this shot, but trust me — I could’ve used a machete. My husband called it a poison ivy festival. I think he was right. Swarms of bugs accompanied us on our trek (thank God for insect repellent) and to be honest, I was a bit wary of snakes. But we made it without incident.

We found remnants of the resort’s infrastructure.


Part of the T-bar

 


Pipes for the snowmaking system.

 

I’m not sure what this little building was for, but there are a few small structures still in place.

 

Here’s another building at the base, beside what must have been the snowmaking reservoir:

 

Snow Valley is in a beautiful place. Here’s the view across the valley to Bromley, another Vermont ski area:

 

I’d like to explore Snow Valley further, but I think I’ll wait til fall when the leaves are down. The brush made this a difficult slog, and I’m sure there are many things that’d be a lot easier to see. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 



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